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US nurses strike over insufficient Ebola protections

US nurses strike over insufficient Ebola protections
Nurses in California and Washington, DC began a two-day strike Wednesday over staff and equipment shortfalls, particularly when treating Ebola patients. Thousands of registered nurses in 14 other US states held rallies in solidarity.

Roughly 1,800 nurses began strikes at 56 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics in California and Washington, DC over equipment, patient-care standards, staff shortfalls, and Ebola. The two-day strike is the latest action surrounding contract negotiations with their employers that began in July.

READ MORE:Ebola health workers go on strike in Sierra Leone

Officials from National Nurses United (NNU) say this time it is not about pay, but about the erosion of patient-care standards and the company failing to provide safeguards and protective equipment for Ebola treatment. Specifically, the union wants nurses and caregivers who interact with Ebola patients to be given equipment such as full-body hazmat suits, as well as continuous, rigorous interactive training for RNs and other health workers if they encounter an Ebola patient.

The NNU has also repeatedly called on the White House and Congress to direct all hospitals to meet these standards.

Kaiser Permanente needs to realize that we are very strong and the only reason we are out here is for our patients,” Cathy Davis, a registered nurse on strike, told ABC Fresno. Davis said the hospital she works at has room for major improvement in tools and resources in order to give patients the best care.

We’ve also had an influx of patients from the Affordable Care Act to where we are seeing more patients, that are sicker patients for our population, and for that we’d like to have more staffing,” Davis added. “We’d like to have the proper equipment to take care of these sicker patients, and right now Kaiser is not providing that equipment.

READ MORE: ‘Entire villages disappeared’: Ebola deaths in Sierra Leone ‘underreported’

Despite the strike, Kaiser Permanente hospitals have remained open and brought in traveling nurses and qualified stand-ins to make up for their depleted staffs. Fresno hospital administrators, when asked about how the strike was affecting quality of care, told ABC that “care at the hospital is great, and it is great today.”

Image from nationalnursesunited.org

Solidarity rallies and actions by nurses were registered to happen in Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Chicago, North Carolina, Texas, Nevada and other states.

Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients whether it's the flu, whether it's Ebola, whether it's cancer, are now being asked to put themselves in harm's way unprotected, unguarded," said NNU executive director Rose Ann DeMoro in a press conference announcing the actions.

For its part, Kaiser Permanente told Reuters that nurses are using the Ebola crisis as a way to leverage labor concessions.

We continue to be perplexed about why the nurses’ union is striking,” the company said in a statement. “For weeks, union leadership has claimed to the public that this strike is about Ebola. But the fact is Kaiser Permanente is well prepared, well trained and well equipped to handle potential or diagnosed Ebola cases...in the last day or so, the union has changed its message and now says to the public that the strike is about ‘staffing.

Just as the union’s Ebola message is confusing because it is not supported by the facts, this new reason for striking by the union also isn’t true. We believe, and our nurses know, that Kaiser Permanente is one of the best-staffed health care systems in California and the nation. Our nurse staffing always meets, and often exceeds, state-required levels.

READ MORE:Insurance companies start writing ‘Ebola exclusions’ into policies